That I get contacted by people to book them air tickets is hilarious if not outrageous. Yes, I pen this column and I do talk about aviation a lot, but that does not make me an airline ticketing representative or a travel agent.
Now that we have that out of the way, let us dig into the ticketing concerns that have most travellers flustered and panicky about their travel plans.
There is no ideal time to purchase an air ticket and no, there are no complicated algorithms to run so as to end up with your ideal ticket that fits your every expectation including price.
The regional traveller, though aware of their intentions to travel, is a last minute planner who still expects to get the best travel deal while booking late. Knowing someone who works at an airline is not going to be of any help on what to pay for an air ticket.
As a traveller, what you pay for an air ticket will be determined by a number of factors, key of which is the urgency of your travel. The nearer you are to your expected travel dates, the more you should expect to pay for your ticket.
This is the principle that most airlines use to create that last minute perception of “a highly demanded seat” while capitalising on your sense of urgency.
You always get a sense of being fleeced when you finally board your flight and find it half empty after paying top fare since you bought the ticket at the last minute.
In fact, most discounts offered to early air ticket purchasers are usually made up for in the fares given to the late buyers. That is the plain simple reality of how airlines stay afloat.
But sometimes travel demand is real and driven by the travel seasonality.
Airline travel trends feature certain months in a year when demand goes through the roof. While these trends are global, regional travellers get affected in terms of how far in advance they should buy their tickets.
Take for instance the summer season in the northern hemisphere that has most of Europe and North America travelling both domestically and internationally. As a result, popular holiday destinations in the regions get affected as airline seats get fewer with more demand hence more expensive.
Air travellers should therefore plan their non-essential journeys around seasonal demand peaks and therefore purchase their tickets during the off-seasons to get the best deals.
Interestingly, the validity period of an air ticket can also determine how much you pay for a it. For instance, an airline can offer a discounted fare with a one-month validity period.
This means that the return leg of the journey must be within 30 days of the first date of travel. Where the period of stay is longer, one can expect to pay a higher fare for the same sector of travel.
Keep in mind that the maximum duration your ticket can remain valid is a year.
Having gone through all these factors, the best recommendation is that travellers buy their tickets at least 60 days in advance of a planned journey.
Direct online purchase may mean reasonable fares but some airlines restrict how far into the future online tickets can be bought.
For ad hoc or short notice travel, the best deal can always be obtained from a fare comparison exercise between airlines flying the the desired route.
Either way, travellers are best placed when aware that each fare quotation has its unique terms and conditions. The more discounted a fare looks, the more you should expect restrictive conditions around it.
In actuality, the most discounted air fares can be agonising as they do not allow basic privileges like a free change of reservation or refund on cancellation.
While it is understandable that forward planning for travel can be complicated by many variables, travellers need to take advantage of airline ticket time limit policy so as to book tickets well in advance without necessarily paying up front.
For example, where a booking is done 90 days before day of travel, airlines may have a ticket time limit of 20 days to travel giving the traveller the advantage of holding a fare quotation for 50 days.
Good luck with your next ticket purchase.
This article was earlier published in The East African Want a cheap air ticket? Book early November 24, 2016